Ideally, a football team would hope to be able to win on its own terms in the playoffs. But that wasn't to be for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in their semi-final matchup against the B.C. Lions.
The 'Riders' greatest strength through the second half of the season was a devastating pass rush which forced sacks and turnovers on a regular basis. But the Lions countered a swarming defensive line with plenty of options and quick passes - leaving the 'Riders regularly flailing at open-field tackles, and enabling B.C. to dominate the possession battle for most of the first three quarters.
And on offence, the 'Riders have relied in large part on Kory Sheets and a mid-range passing attack. But with B.C. ready to contain both of those threats, the 'Riders found a couple of backup plans: a remarkably successful deep passing game based on the high-risk principle of "launch the ball to Taj Smith in double coverage and hope for a miracle", and the return of Darian Durant as a second rushing threat.
In the end, that proved to be enough to overcome the Lions. But we'll have to see whether B.C. found some weaknesses which will prove irresistible for the Stampeders next weekend.
After all, Andrew Harris' broken tackles tended to lead to a first down or slightly more - but the speedier Jon Cornish figures to churn up far more yardage if the first defender on the scene can't either make the tackle, or at least turn him back toward other defenders in pursuit. And while the Stamps' comfort level with fewer players in the secondary may leave some deep passes open, it will also limit Durant's ability to find running room.
Of course, the 'Riders will have their own opportunity to prepare for the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball. And hopefully they'll be able to resume playing the style of game that worked best throughout the 2013 season.